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We Are Joined By Our Difference: Some Thoughts on the Eternal Honeymoon

August 08, 2013


I would like to do a brief reflection on the nature of loving relationships and the idea of the Eternal Honeymoon (influenced by a little Lacan). There is a ubiquitous fantasy, propagated across our culture, of a couple who are able to make each other whole, complete and fulfilled. Not surprisingly the stories that describe this vision tend to end at the moment when the couple meet: often signaled by the phrase, “and they lived happily ever after.” What this suggests is that, after all the dragons have been fought, the evil step mothers overcome and the curses broken, the couple melt into each others arms and… well presumably watch TV. The problem here is that, not only is such a view a type of fiction, but that it actually gets in the way of developing what might be a truly enriching, exciting and enduring relationship. A relationship what might well be a type of “eternal honeymoon,” not simply in the sense of it having the intensity of the honeymoon period, but more in the sense that it effectuates and extends the temporary state that is represented by the word “honeymoon,” a state that traditionally gives way to settling down.

In order to get to this type of relationship there must first be a crisis, a failure. This failure is one in which we realize that this idea of completing another is false. Yet it is this very failure that ultimately reveals a success (as Zizek would say), at least to those with eyes to see. This is something I would like to devote more attention to in the future, however for now I will simply outline the basic moves,


1. There is a gap that lies between us

This is the first manifestation of the traumatic failure. It is the point when one realizes that there are issues that get in the way of them becoming one with their beloved. Whether the two people are in an existing partnership, or unable to consummate their love, a crack is revealed that cannot but strike both as horrible. The fantasy we have is that this gap can be abolished, however despite those wonderful fleeting moments in which two lovers feel like extensions of each others being, the gap remains between two subjects.

2. There is a gap within me

This leads to a further horror. Namely that the gap which separates you from me exposes a gap that separates me from myself. It feels that the only way that I can close this inner gap is if I close the gap between myself and my lover, yet this gap cannot be filled in. The first gap is thus redoubled: I cannot be one with myself if I cannot be one with you.

3. There is a gap within you

The next step involves realizing that gap within you mirrors the truth of your beloved; that she is not at one with herself. This is also a profoundly difficult insight, not only because it involves the recognition that your beloved is also caught up in the impossibility of ultimate fulfillment, but that you cannot then be that which makes her whole. You cannot complete her anymore than creative work, children, travel, marriage, yoga or parties can.

4. The gap within each of us overlap

This however all opens up the possibility of turning these various failures into success through a change that happens at a purely formal level. For as I learn to embrace the insight that the gap that manifests itself between and within us is precisely what each of us share I can see that it is what brings us together. Our respective gaps overlap and we realize that we are unified in our restlessness, in our ongoing desire, in our frustrations and in our openness to the future. Far from idealizing “settle down” this leads to a dynamic type of romantic coupling that is fueled by ever-new challenges, political engagements and/or artistic expressions. None of which are embraced because of some idea that they will fulfill, but because they fuel the circuit of the couples insatiable desire. In short we discover a couple who are sated by their hunger.


40 Responses to We Are Joined By Our Difference: Some Thoughts on the Eternal Honeymoon

  1. Darrell@urbanbridge says:

    Thanks Pete
    Great piece-informative, provocative-vintage Rollins


  2. Some excellent thoughts here Pete. I completely agree that there is a huge myth about couples ‘completing’ each other or ‘saving each other’, or finding a partner to ‘sort my life out’. And it’s fundamentally flawed, because none of us is perfect, and none of us can complete or save each other.

    Healthy relationships come when we go into them recognising this from the beginning, and have grace with one another within that, and once you do, as you say, you actually discover a more healthy relationship.

  3. OK. Yes, it’s a really good thought-provoking article. No surprise. I expect that from Peter.
    What I want to know is “Who came up with the cool graphic?”

  4. Margaret says:

    Hope this is in your next book. It really resonated with me.

  5. James says:

    Thanks Pete. Really helpful in all sorts of ways (could be extended to pastors and churches for example). It’s also a nice reprise of what Henri Nouwen spent many of his books writing about. Particularly thinking of ‘Reaching Out.’:

    “It is my growing conviction that my life belongs to others just as much as it belongs to myself and that what is experienced as most unique often proves to be most solidly embedded in the common condition of being human.”
    ― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Reaching Out

  6. Stephen says:

    Yes, that is Zizekian. “We all think A is A, but I will show you that it is actually B.”

  7. Stephen says:

    If you’re going to do sentimental pop psychology with a happy ending, you really shouldn’t call it “Lacanian.” This is almost the exact opposite of the conclusion that Lacan makes.

  8. nuria says:

    To Stephen:
    Can you tell us then whats the conclusion that Lacan makes?

  9. Yes, Steven…could you please enlighten all of us with the correct conclusion/interpretation?

    Also, I don’t see a simple “happy ending” in Pete’s interpretation. Seems like your saying that even though Pete offers no objective, intrinsic idea that fulfills the union of the two lovers, only that of an energized circuit between the two which fuels their insatiable desire, & your first description of this encounter is to label it a “happy ending”?

    Seems shortsighted to me…but I’d love to hear more from you.

  10. Cyndi says:

    Reminds me of something a friend once said years ago, and I wrote it down. It stuck with me.

    “I thrive on hunger, not fulfillment.”

  11. Amy says:

    This is why I think Jerry Maguire is one of the worst romcoms ever to be made. The pinnacle of his declaration of love is “you complete me.” I cringe everytime. I have been thinking that one of the problems with marriage is that the institution has not evolved enough. As a symbol of this, I would love to see alternate marriage vows that are a bit more realistic than the ones we commonly say. Maybe to be included, – “I vow to never attempt to complete you.” 😉

  12. Stephen says:

    So, really quick, but first off, it seems to me that the piece makes some fundamental mistakes, conflating the ucs with the object a in regards to the question of lack. It almost sounds like you’re arguing that the gap between intention and actions is what constitutes lack?

    Another glaring problem: to imply that Zizek wants to help you with your love life is beyond ludicrous. But then again, in other places you imply that Zizek is trying to help Christians have a better understanding about God, so you have a running tendency to misrepresent figures that you refer to.

    Nevertheless, assuming that you are referring to structural positions around object a, the sentimental pop psychology gets thick in your constructive proposal. Since I don’t have much time, I’m just going to quote from Seminar XX:

    “But being the is the jouissance of the body as such, that is, as asexual, because what is known as sexual jouissance is marked and dominated by the impossibility of establishing as such, anywhere in the enunciable, the sole One that interests us, the One of the relation “sexual relationship” (rapport sexuel). That is what analytic discourse demonstrates in that, to one of these beings qua sexed, to man insofar as he is endowed with the organ said to be phallic – I said, “said to be” – the corporal sex or sexual organ of woman – I said, “of woman,” whereas in fact woman does not exist, woman is not whole (pas toute) – woman’s sexual organ is of no interest except via the body’s jouissance.” 
“Analytic experience attests precisely to the fact that everything revolves around phallic jouissance, in that woman is defined by a position that I have indicated as “not whole” with respect to phallic jouissance. … Phallic jouissance is the obstacle owing to which man does not come, I would say, to enjoy woman’s body, precisely because what he enjoys is the jouissance of the organ.” (6-7)

    In other words, the structural positions of “Man” and “Woman” are asymmetrical. It’s not just “let’s just all admit our lack and everything will be rosy,” like you make it out to be.

    • Peter Rollins says:

      Just a quick response as ive been out with friends and am about to grab some sleep. But in terms of saying that I’m claiming here that the gap between intention and actions is what constitutes lack – I don’t see that claim in the post. Perhaps you are saying that it exists as an implicit implication, but it wasn’t what I was thinking and I personally can’t see it.

      In terms of the idea that I imply that Zizek wants to help you with your love life, I agree that that would be a little silly. But just to be clear i don’t think that, not that I think he’d be necessary be against it. I’m sure if I chatted with him in the pub he might be interested in these things. But my point is that I don’t speak for Zizek’s intentions here and don’t claim to. I dont really care much what his intentions are. like always I just use what I read to help me reflect upon my own issues and struggles. Love and relationships are something I am interested in.

      I also am not sure where you got the idea that I imply that Zizek is trying to help Christians have a better understanding about God. I consider Zizek to be doing a form of Radical Theology and thus critiquing the notion of God. Something I affirm. Indeed it was Zizek rather than Altizer who really helped me embrace Radical Theology. His background mirrored parts of my own and this I found his work helpful when applying to my own situation.

      When it comes to the quote I don’t see why it contradicts what I said at all. Indeed, while I was touching on the notions of alienation and separation in the post, rather than Seminar XX, it is one of the seminars that made the greatest impact on my personal understanding of relationships. While the post above was a personal reflection on my own experience (which sadly never got to the last stage), I can’t see how Seminar XX’s reflection on the impossibility of the sexual relationship contradicts it. My post is a non academic reflection (sparked by my own own romantic failures) and so I don’t go into the asymmetric relation between the sexes. But I don’t see how what I wrote contradicts that.

      I should however say that my reading of Lacan is outside the academy. I read him at a personal level as a means of evoking things within me, rather than approaching him as an abstract discourse to dissect, and don’t want to claim that my reading is orthodox or one Lacan would like. I’m happy to be corrected by those who know what Lacan means better than I. I read him more as a personal challenge.

      • Stephen says:

        The extreme “kettle logic,” along with appeals to experience, faux self-deprecation, and messiah/guilt complex that are all on display in your response come together to let me know that it really isn’t even worth continuing this discussion with you. You have built up extreme defense mechanisms and they are all on display here. It would be nice if you could have one engagement with criticism where you don’t launch a critique of the Academy (while always willing to claim you PhD when it suits you). I’m sure your readers will be sympathetic to the “persecution” you receive at the hands of the academy, while keeping your activist hands clean.

        To be honest, I’ve never heard of anyone who tries to hold to a “Lacanian orthodoxy,” I don’t know how that could even be possible. But it is clear that you are building a readership of people who read structural critiques through an individualistic, existential lens. This is hermeneutical violence and I’ll be back around to call bullshit sometime soon.

        • KB says:

          Stephen, you know I’m good friends with Pete, but I’ve read and re-read his response to your reply and I’m actually really shocked by your reading of it. In short, you come across as a total dick.

          I don’t particularly care in the personal sense of attacking a friend, but I do think that, as someone trying to make their way in academia, you really should try to do better in your responses online. People see this stuff that you write and, independently of friendships with Pete and others, I know for a fact that you’re building a pretty crappy profile for yourself. If I were looking to employ someone, or accept them into a study programme, I’d definitely pass on you, just because you come across so aggressively. Your final remark is in some senses hilarious, and in others really sad and pathetic. But mostly it just reflects on you as someone who just hates, and that’s going to serve you extremely poorly if you’re interested in any kind of career in ideas.

          I hope sometime you’ll be able to read this without any red mist. Honestly, you need to change the way you interact online. It matters.

  13. nuria says:

    Stephen i am not sure if peter is defending himself in his response or not, but if he is, İ am not surprised because the way you engage in this discussion is solely by attacking. A couple of people asked you to explain what Lacan means, and you provided us with an academic text that, at least to me, is hard to engage with. On the contrary when i read peter reflections, i feel ive been pushed back to myself, it helps me to reflect on my personal experience and im so grateful to Peter for that. İ want to feel free to create meaning, and not be bullied into understanding the right lacanian, structuralist, postructuralist, whatever..you claim to know.

  14. Stephen says:

    Am I angry that Peter is immunizing people against structural critiques? Yes. I am, because I think that the ability to think structurally is an important thing. More on this later.

    Am I angry that Peter has transgressed some academic orthodoxy, or the “right” way to think about Lacan? No. But Peter models this response constantly, and his readers now use it too.

    It is an absolute straw man.

    However, if Peter is going to name drop thinkers, it is not inappropriate to critique him on the terms of those thinkers. At a very minimum, he should be upfront to his non-academic readers that he is reading those thinkers against the text. Carl Schmitt is a constant reference point for someone like Agamben, and he reads him in order to use a part of his thinking, to further his own thought (as Peter claims he does with Zizek and Lacan). But Schmitt was a fascist, and no one who reads Agamben comes away from Agamben’s texts thinking that they are reading Schmitt on his own terms. Yet time and again, I see Rollins’ readers referencing Zizek and Lacan, thinking that they have understood those readers on their own terms, when in reality they have nothing more than existentially inflected catch phrases. Lacan’s texts explore complex issues about psychic structures, what constitutes us a thinking subjects, etc. And they are notoriously difficult texts. It goes against the grain of his work to build up people’s egos into thinking that a small change in attitude can lead to relationship happiness.

    That is worth critiquing for 2 reasons. First, based on my understanding of Lacan and others, I think that’s a pure narcissistic fantasy (I don’t understand why you wouldn’t direct people to analysis. If you want people to be personally enriched form psychoanalysis, direct them towards an analyst).

    Second, I think it’s worth critiquing because Peter implies that his readers are getting Lacan on his own terms. This is just false. And yet, if his readers now come to texts like Seminar XX, they will have a much more difficult time reading and seeing anything other than a narcissistic reading, because that is what Peter has told them to look for. Again, I don’t care about this for orthodoxy’s sake, I care because I care about pedagogy, honesty, and I think these texts have important things to teach us that are being made more difficult. They are difficult enough to read without someone misdirecting them before they get there.

    As to the structural part — Zizek, a name that Peter drops in almost every thing he writes (I can only speculate that this is for marketing purposes), engages in a structural critique of capitalism. Despite that, in my engagements with Rollins’ readers, they always seem to think that Zizek is attempting to build a theology of God that they can then adopt as their own (non)belief about God. This happens even after they read one of Zizek’s own texts because they have been so strongly influenced by Rollins’ lens. Instead of reading Zizek to understand the structural issues around global capitalism and ideology, they are reading to modify their personal beliefs, build up their ego, etc. I hope that this is obviously problematic. If you want me to expound more on just exactly why that it is problematic, I will.

    So, as I said in my first comment, if Peter wants to do this kind of work, I will still think he’s wrong, but if he stopped claiming that it was “Lacanian,” or influenced by Zizek, at least he wouldn’t be being deceptive anymore.

    I don’t apologize for being direct and passionate, because I think this shit is important. And both of you loudly declaim any connection with the academy, so I doubt that I’ll see you on a hiring committee.

    • KB says:

      I don’t apologize for being direct and passionate…

      And never should you apologise for that… It’s the rudeness that comes with it – here and elsewhere online that means that the valid points you have get totally lost. And I just think that it’s worth pointing out, because it’s going to end up being costly.

    • Lisa Carson says:

      I find the surfacing of the basic’s in the discussion interesting. As one that has not studied in-depth Zizek or Lacan the summing up of emphasis toward: structural critique of capitalism, psychic structures, what constitutes us as thinking subjects – extremely interesting ideas to consider from many angles. I suppose I have been attempting to articulate those ideas in other forms. Among that – the topics of “relationships, order, basic needs, love, process, continual evolving embraced, etc”….. attempting to relate to this “language”, can there be a creation of artificial gaps? If so, does the felt frustration of that feel at odds with the suggestion of a “needed gap”, what is the legitimate needed gap(perhaps what Pete attempts to insist remain, within his continual rejection of full satisfaction), but in terms of the idea suggesting “thinking-beings” – It makes me consider the various ways in which structural influences, artificial influential gaps, the idea of constant-legitimate-inescapable-gaps, go into the idea of whether we “think” or always move in response-to, or ever have freewill, or can we simply influence aspects of minimizing our lack of freewill/thoughts/actions – if that makes any sense at all, at times it seems kester goes into critiquing the artificial creations that cause more of a lack in freewill (critique of rich to help poor), Pete the maintaining of the gaps in relation to pulling back the artificial (so as not to attempt a sense of arrival assumed at rebuilding without that). But also, to me, the idea of what I am attempting to name as artificial gaps (or places made that create a strong pull or influence to set up toward something – not a sense of universal lack of freewill, but systematic, disproportionate lacking of freedom – false gaps that make the “gaps” more of the felt enemy/refusal, creating an inability for structural rebuilding for humanity to actually take place because of a reaction to build what can not “match” existence because of lack to build with-gaps) does occur, there also seem to be those that not only work to articulate that but allow a process out that is survivable, maybe when we talk about proper forms of governing/structure, that does not only have to incorporate just a means of life unto a proper “gap” as eventual acceptance, but properly out from artificial-gaps, and minimizing susceptibility to them. Living in the eventual acceptance(structure unto gaps)of this is probably what I tend to call a form of “spirituality” I suppose for lack of better term. Not sure if what I shared makes sense (?) but I tend to see the various idea useful from many angles. Even yours. Thanks guys for the useful mess here.

  15. Stephen says:

    Kester — again with this unhappiness thing? It really is telling that both of you immediately jump to attacking my motivations. That’s just cheap and wrong.

  16. Stephen says:

    Sorry, re-read your comment and, red mist comment notwithstanding, you didn’t attack my motivations here.

  17. Stephen says:

    Just to be clear: Are you threatening me, or what?

    • KB says:

      HA! That’s properly made my day! No Stephen, I’m not threatening you. But it’s pretty revealing that you consider some friendly advice to be threatening. And I mean that – it’s just some advice, not “hermeneutical violence” where “I’ll be back around to call bullshit sometime soon.” LOL.

  18. Stephen says:

    You’re the one who writes about pirates! LOLZ

  19. APS says:

    Oh don’t be silly Kester. Hiring committees don’t care about Internet spats. We don’t google that deeply when we are looking at candidates! This just seems like another way to deflect criticism. Rule number one of emergent Christian para-academia: don’t criticize nothing unless they are vague notions.

    • KB says:

      Well you’d better hope so :)
      And FFS when will you guys get it?! It’s not about deflecting criticism, it’s about the tone in which that is done! Asking for Stephen to not be a prick and get so angry and snarky when posting comments – which is a recurring pattern – is just a basic request about decency.

  20. Stephen says:

    I guess the point was that I didn’t expect bourgeois moralizing about tone from someone who holds up pirates as an ethos. I’m willing to have a level tone from here on out if we get back to talking about the deceptiveness with which Peter misrepresents these figures.

    • KB says:

      The reason we got away from valid critique of Pete’s work was the lack of level tone in your original comment. That was the sole point of me coming in here – the good stuff you say gets lost immediately when the tone is aggressive and snarky, and think that’s something we could do without on all sides as it’s patently getting things nowhere.

      As a side point: I think it’s worth reflecting on whether we’re actually interested in the debate being moved on. In a funny way (I’m speaking generally here now), the act of aggressively trying to get those who disagree with us to change perhaps hides a desire for no change to happen, as these continuing oppositions allow us a vent for our anger/disappointment/frustration with the world. If we were to debate more reasonably, we might find that change actually occurred, and those we oppose actually came to some agreement with us, and that would then remove the chance to vent.

      I’ve definitely seen that in my own interactions: not wanting ‘the other’ to agree or be reasonable, because it’s useful to have them as that other. I think this is perhaps part of the trouble with the AUFS/RT dynamic: the opposition has been in some way useful for both parties, which means the arguments can’t move on. Just a thought – again, not specifically aimed at the above discussion.

  21. Stephen says:

    Kester, I really don’t think there’s a nice way to say “I think your whole marketing strategy is based on building a personality cult and insulating your readers from real critique by deceiving them.”

  22. Stephen says:

    A little history. My first post wading into this discussion:
    I was very nice in that post. Where did it get me? Peter parachuted in to the comments and made passive aggressive remarks in the comments and on twitter attacking me and my motivations. Then, after Peter decided to provide ideological cover for a racist, misogynistic fellow Christian celebrity, I got angry. I don’t think that nice dialogue is a good in itself.

  23. Tad DeLay says:

    No Stephen, there is no nice way to call anyone a charlatan, but there is also no honest way to say that here. Pete has been working along a trajectory for a while now, and I don’t recall you having any trouble with it until quite recently. It’s not just your negativity; it’s the posturing that is a problem. You know the psychoanalytic material pretty well and have a lot to add, but the antagonism you are expressing here is clearly personal and political rather than a matter of disagreement over material.

  24. Stephen says:

    I’m not sure what that comment adds to the conversation Tad. Peter has already questioned my motivations multiple times.

  25. Cameron Freeman says:

    So, love is in the connections we cannot make… Beautiful Pete.

  26. Zippy the Pin Head says:

    Always remember what humpty dumpty told us – once you have fallen from the always already prior condition of Indivisible Unity all the kings horses and all the kings men can never ever put or join humpty dumpty together again.

    On the contrary, the chequer-board pattern thus created expands infinitely in all directions with no exit.

  27. Rachel S says:

    Funny how all the academic BS in this discussion makes us lose sight of the insight at the very end of Peter´s essay, the perhaps utopian vision of a couple sated by desire. At least it´s something to imagine. I´ve spent too many years around academics to know how soul-petrifying these debates can be.

  28. Mary Sarah says:

    I think it is possible, that this belief about being in a relationship in which you expect one to fulfill you may actually be a passing phenomenon, a notion, we are evolving out of. Maybe it is the people I know, or the circles I frequent, but I am heartened by the relationships I see where people have betrothed or committed themselves to one another. Fortified in their hearts with the desire to give, not out of receiving, but because the beloved is always near in mind and felt love flows without measure. The object of their togetherness is NOT to expect one to be something else, but to share all that inhabits daily life. The joy in the simple. The truth of every moment.

    I am struck with the richness of those who pass their lives together in this way and am reminded that nature in her abundance becomes, “more,” with each passing year. Bigger blooms on heightened stalks, taller grass in the harvest fields, larger tomatoes on the vine. When natural love is tended and cared for, it simply grows……..and becomes more than what can be imagined.

    Thus, I think there is a growing consciousness – to leave fairy tales in favor of reality – which is sexy sweet in its earthiness and ever hopeful in its discovery.

  29. A. Pennyworth says:

    If there’s one lesson I’ve learned here today, it’s never argue with a former angsty youth pastor whose avatar is him wearing a scarf while drinking an IPA.
    What’s next leather elbow patches and a pipe…

  30. z says:

    I haven’t given up on closing the primary gap within myself. I may never fully achieve it, but I am much closer via radical truth and kindness. This is the first hospitality – I am finding change here effects everything.

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